My Life as a Nurse Navigator

Before becoming a nurse navigator, I was a patient myself forging my own personal journey with breast cancer. One of the individuals who helped me was a woman who shared some of her own personal experience with me during a preoperative scheduling appointment - she had also chosen breast surgery.

Being a nurse, having worked in the field for years, I know now it's different when you realize you'll be the one undergoing treatment. However, she understood what I was going through, and she came to see me while I was waiting for the results of my surgery.

She said, "I know you're anxious but we're here for you. Whatever news you get, you can feel good about what you've done so far."

That day was 17 years ago, and at the time, there wasn't as much available in the formal role of navigation.

How a Nurse Navigator Influences the Approach to Care

At MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute, the nurse navigator is like a lighthouse showing people how to avoid rocks in a vast ocean. Not only am I able to tailor the care to my patient's needs, it's satisfying when I am able to link someone to a resource they didn't know was available. For me, a big part of the satisfaction is having patients know I'm not just there for the good times.

It can be a great comfort for our patients to know there are people who can hear those scary things you're worried about; it's okay to have that conversation. Even the people you love, like family members who are close to you, don't always know what to say.

And then there are those rewarding moments when a patient comes back to me with fantastic news. "I thought I might never walk again, but I'm walking now!"

What I Wish the Public Knew About Nurse Navigators

I think we're still helping people to understand the role of a nurse navigator. In fact, a lot of people — unless someone points them to it — don't even know such positions exist.

Nurse navigators have a great base of knowledge around the standard of care. They can help explain the big picture and the questions that arise. We try to get out in the community as many times as we can, at the level of prevention or early detection. We're there so patients can see and experience what navigation could mean for them.

Empowering People With the Knowledge They Need

My role is all about making sure the patient realizes the support that is available to them early on and across the team — even for the very first suspicious finding. We help to clarify what can be an overwhelming amount of information, helping people understand their specific situation to aim the right treatment plan at it.

We also educate them on how important it is to comprehend the behavior of their cancer. I often explain what cancer staging is, its importance and how easily cancer can be over- or undertreated without all of the necessary information.

I also try to give people the confidence of what's going on behind the scenes — anything they're not aware of, from their point of view. For example, letting them know that a number of specialists such as surgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, and imaging specialists collaborate to develop the best plan for them. They're looking at the patient’s scans together. They're trying to determine what is best in each individual case. It’s important for me to relay that type of information back to the patient.

The navigation role is very important in helping bring people back to the big picture of quality cancer care. And the patients I see need to know what their newfound situation will mean for their lives and how can they get in control once more.

Sometimes, there are different points in someone’s cancer journey that they have to stop and reevaluate next steps. It's nice for them to know that we'll be there for every stop along the way. And when they get to their next milestone, we'll be there for them, ready to answer their questions.

We are here to help.

If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 202-295-0513.

Techniques Used to Improve Quality of Life for Bone Tumor Patients

Not only is bone cancer a worrisome diagnosis for patients and their families, the prospect of treating any cancer can be frightening, as you may not know what challenges you can expect or how to overcome them.

In this article, we'll be looking specifically at bone sarcomas, which are cancers that arise in the body's bone, muscle and connective tissue. There are several other types of bone tumors, including:

  • Other cancerous tumors that arise in the bone marrow;
  • Benign tumors of the bone; and
  • Non-bone cancer that spreads into the bone.

Each of these types of tumors brings its own unique care challenges and treatment strategies.

Alleviating Fears

When patients learn they have bone cancer, one of the most common fears is that they'll need to have a limb amputated. Historically, this kind of aggressive treatment was the first line of attack against bone cancer, and many prominent cases were treated this way.

But for many patients today, this is no longer the case. The limb is spared, and amputation is not necessary. Modern treatments for bone cancer treat the tumor(s) with a combination of medical and surgical methods. Doctors do this while preserving as much limb function as possible, maximizing the patient's ability to function and ensuring a high quality of life, both during and after treatment.

The Diagnosis Process

Providing an accurate diagnosis, with vital information about the type and stage of cancer, is critical to treatment. An accurate, thorough diagnosis helps your team of doctors create a treatment plan that's safe, effective and thorough, and minimizes unnecessary treatment.

One of the most vital aspects of the diagnosis is the biopsy, which is an examination of a tissue sample collected from the body. A good biopsy should be minimally invasive, only testing parts of the tissue suspected to be affected. CT-guided or ultrasound-guided needle biopsies, or needle biopsies performed in a major clinic, allow precise, careful testing of tissue.

An appropriately-placed biopsy takes just enough tissue to test, and no more. But at the same time, some doctors – especially those who do not commonly work with bone cancers – take too little tissue for a definite diagnosis, forcing a re-biopsy. Our doctors always work to take the proper amount for the biopsy – not too much, and not too little.

Devising a Treatment Plan

Different types of bone cancer require different treatments. The limbs affected and the stage of cancer will also affect the treatment plan. For some cancers, chemotherapy is needed prior to a limb-salvaging surgery. Other cancers don't respond as well to chemotherapy and require surgery (not necessarily an amputation) to treat. This is why obtaining an accurate diagnosis is so crucial.

Primary bone cancer is very rare, and its treatment is often highly specialized and complex. One of the best ways you can assure swift, safe and thorough treatment is to receive diagnosis and treatment at a large center that employs a team of experienced oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, pathologists and other doctors. This way, you know you'll get the care you need, and your quality of life will be assured.

Final Thought

When your doctor suspects bone cancer, one of the most important ways to ensure successful treatment and a high quality of life is to receive an accurate diagnosis at a major medical center. If you do indeed receive a bone cancer diagnosis, receiving comprehensive treatment from a team of experienced doctors at a major care facility is vital to ensuring you receive the best care possible.